Re-Imagining Work

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought disruption for all of us, and in far too many cases pain, and even sorrow. However, it came at a time when technological innovations meant that a ‘new world of work’ was at last a realistic prospect. Like so many other organisations, Nationwide has relied on these innovations to continue to operate during these difficult times.

Of course, this has let us all see that there is no need just to drop back into the old ways of doing things once the pandemic no longer requires people to work from home. It’s also made it clear that career and development opportunities no longer need to be constrained by geography in the way they have been in the past – although, inevitably, some roles are less able to benefit than others.

The employee survey that Nationwide carried out in February showed both that there was clear support for significant change to the way people work, and that no single model would meet the needs and wishes of all: what is wanted is ‘choice’. This is key and must be at the heart of what happens in the future. We also need to be clear that choice is sometimes going to be restricted because of the needs of particular roles, the home environment, or family situations.

There was obviously an excellent response to the survey – but a sizable number of people didn’t get round to sharing their views. Now that it has been confirmed that Nationwide won’t be going back to the old way of doing things, we’d encourage everyone to be involved and raise any concerns or suggestions – either with the Society, or with ourselves at NGSU.

The Joint Statement issued today, and the all-employee communication, points out that there are still many matters to be decided about the practicalities, and work on a range of policies that will support the new arrangements is on-going and will be reviewed over next few months – we listed a number of the matters we think need to be considered on our website early last month We’ll work with the Society to monitor how the new arrangements are bedding in and whether any additional support is required. Key to these changes being successfully implemented will be changing the working culture at Nationwide, and again, we shall be keeping how this develops under review in the coming months. We’re currently having regular dialogue on all these matters, and have agreed that there will be meetings at least monthly to discuss progress, and any issues that may arise.

Future developments

In our discussions with the Society from the very beginning of the pandemic, and particularly as we have turned to ‘Reimagining Work’, several issues have been particularly important to us:

Frontline teams – for many people working in the branch network or some operational areas, much of this discussion may well seem irrelevant: it’s simply not possible to serve a customer at the counter from home. However, there are certainly aspects of what has been learned already that can be adopted or retained across the whole business, and as we learn more in the months ahead, we will work with the Society to find ways of making a re-imagined world of work feel a reality here, too.

The right support – covering equipment; technology; and terms and conditions (such as business mileage; the provision of cars; location allowances, etc.)

The right culture – the way of working should include enabling as much flexibility as a role allows, with no arbitrary restrictions imposed. The practices of a few must not set the norm for others (for instance, if someone receives e-mails late at night, there should not be an expectation that they will be responded to straightaway). Occasionally, it may be necessary for a team to come together for a specific task or event; normally, however, each individual should be free to choose the location that works best for them, and not experience pressure to come into a workplace – or to stay at home. There should be no suggestion that some reasons for making that choice are acceptable and others are not. People must feel that they are working from home, not that they are living at work.

A major benefit of these new ways of working is that recruitment for a significant number of roles will be on a ‘work anywhere’ basis, enabling the Society to recruit from a much wider pool of candidates, and for people living a long way away from an Admin Centre to consider roles they would never have done in the past. However, a few roles may still need people to live near to an Admin Centre for some time to come.

Wellbeing & H&S – managing a remote team requires a proactive approach, for instance, to spot the signs of someone needing support when they’re mostly seen on a screen rather than in person. Employees must be confident that they can share any challenges they are facing, rather than struggle on in silence when support might be available quite easily. And everyone must be particularly alert to long-term H&S issues, such as the importance of workstation setup in the home, identifying and tackling bodycare issues; and avoiding / responding to accidents. These are, clearly, issues that can arise in any workplace, and it’s vital to recognise that they remain important wherever you’re working.

Work issues/Communication – it’s important that divisions do not develop between those working from home and others working more frequently in an office, so it’s crucial that employees and managers, and teams as a whole, keep in regular contact, and that this not just be about performance or task matters. And obviously, the Society’s policies (like those on privacy & monitoring or data security) continue to apply regardless of where people are working.

Inclusion & Diversity –the greater flexibility being announced today will extend opportunities to many groups who have previously had their chances restricted by their location or their need for specific working hours, but an overly rigid approach could place unintended barriers in the way of others, such as young people with limited private space at home. Nationally, experience during the various lockdowns has been that the impact of lockdown and enforced homeworking has been different for men than for women, and it will be important that the arrangements at Nationwide don’t build in such differences once life has returned to normal.

Tim Rose
General Secretary

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